Looking at works of art is very subjective, and so it’s probably a good idea to have an understanding on what type of art is on display at the National Gallery and where you can find what you’re looking for.
Overlooking Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery has over 2,300 paintings that belong to UK citizens and consequently is free to go in. You can either walk up the steps and enter through the portico, or better still take the Getty entrance on the right, where, not only is there a lift for people who need it, but also other facilities such as cloakroom, toilets, coffee bar, café, restaurant, shop, and information point.
The lift will whisk you up to Level 2 where practically all the paintings are located. The layout is arranged in a total of four wings – the Sainsbury Wing (13th-15th century), the West Wing (16th century), the North Wing (17th century) and the East Wing (18th to early 20th century). The Sainsbury Wing is a modern extension added in 1991. In some ways this makes it slightly more confusing because although it houses the earliest paintings, the rooms are numbered the highest (from 51 to 66). Other than that all the other wings run in chronological order.
Given that the name is The National Gallery, you might think that it just houses British works of art, but in actual fact it exhibits the country’s collection of Western European paintings including Renaissance, Baroque and Impressionism. (For the National Gallery of British Art you need to go to Tate Britain on Millbank).
Some of the highlights include (one of) Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ in Room 45, John Constable’s ‘Haywain’ in Room 34 and Anthony van Dyck’s ‘Equestrian Portrait of Charles I in Room 31.
The gallery encourages people from all walks of life, including children, and with the added incentive of free entry it’s no wonder that with over 6 million visitors a year, it’s one of the most visited art galleries in the world. According to Wikipedia, only The Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York have more visitors.
The National Gallery really requires more than one visit to do it justice, but armed with the information you need beforehand, at least you should be able to see what interests you the most.
For all the current information including exhibitions don’t forget to check out their website below.